History of Fourth Ward

What is a "Ward" ? 

By Cecelia Cook Drew 

It is a political geographic district, and the precursor to the City Council "district" system used by many American cities. Six Wards exist within the city of Houston, Texas.

Map of 4th Ward 2017           

Houston was founded in 1836 by John Kirby Allen, and Augustus Chapman Allen.When the Republic of Texas altered the Houston city charter in 1840, it divided the city into four wards. Their boundaries of each ward met at the intersection of Congress Street and Main Street, in downtown. Fourth Ward was situated southwest of the intersection. To accommodate the city's growth, Fifth Ward was added in 1866, and Sixth Ward in 1876.


Map drawn by Cecelia Cook Drew 

 Map of Houston1913.jpg - Wikimedia Commons


The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, simply known as the Freedmen's Bureau, was an agency of the United States Department of War. It was established March 3, 1865 by an act of Congress, to help former slaves in transitioning from slavery to freedom in the South.

During Reconstruction, many Freedmen's Towns were founded by freed blacks. Fourth Ward's boundaries extended east to Travis Street, west to Taft Street, north to Allen Parkway, and south to Sutton. Freedmen's Town is housed within those boundaries. Below is my hand drawn map...minus the pirates cruising up and down the bayou. I credit the internet for providing the map from which this is copied.







Original invitation to my very first photography exhibit - "Houston A Look At Fourth Ward" - May 1988 




A day of discovery through the woodsy neighborhood on the outskirts of downtown Houston was just what I was looking for. It was Cecelia's idea to explore the Fourth Ward, "There is a lot of lost history there" - that's all I needed to hear. While planning our trip to Houston, we had decided to dedicate this body of work to commemorate Juneteenth. On June 19th 1865, Union soldiers landed in Galveston, Texas more than 2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued, announcing with Federal Orders that all enslaved African Americans were now free. 

Having newly joined the photography ranks at Los Angeles City College (best thing ever to happen to me !) had its perks...the EQUIPMENT !A big Shout Out to Mr. Joe Dojcsak who loaned me the camera for my trip to Houston under one condition -  I document the trip as much as possible.So with a borrowed Leica (first time ever shooting with it -yikes !) from the Photojournalism Department and a bag full of Tri-x and some Ilford of course, we booked passage to "The Houston" on a Transtar Airlines 727; flight # 927. Yep I took notes and saved stuff !! I knew even back then what I wanted to do with these photographs and in 1988 I did. I had my first ever photographic exhibition at the Los Angeles Photography Center, City of Los Angeles, Cultural Affairs Department. I exhibited the images I took in Fourth ward. It was the best opening I have ever had the pleasure of having - surrounded by family and friends, it was magical. Thank You Ms. Glenna Avila for all your support and encouragement. She was the Curator at the Los Angeles Photography Center and my Amazing Painter Boss !


I can remember Cecelia telling me about how absentee landlords and mysterious fires where just a few of the reasons why Fourth Ward ended up in this state. Outside of Texas most people don't know about 4th Ward, I certainly had no clue of what Freedmen's Town in the Fourth Ward was, nor did I know anything about the unique architecture we stood in awe of. This unwanted swampy land became an established community having some of the first doctors, lawyers and teachers. Some streets were lined with bricks which were all hand made right here in Freedmen's Town. They established a self sustaining community with no outside help. How do you even do that today ?

The denizens of this community have fought long and hard to keep it from going under. Bulldozers, fires and jackhammers have just about destroyed all of the buildings I photographed that day. Now, new expensive buildings stand in there place. These images have seasoned in my mind and are dear to my heart. 30 years later, I hear the call again...And now 2017, Freedmen's Town is almost gone with only about 40 buildings left. My wish is that these photos help illustrate the vibrant neighborhoods within 4th ward and to help preserve what remains. Bookmark us as we will be featuring a blog and updates about the future of 4th Ward. In the meantime I will continue to work on getting the website finished.

This website is dedicated to the very special community we met as we explored the Fourth Ward in 1987, one very Hot Houston day. This project was and remains a collaboration by Artists - Roxanne Quezada Chartouni, Photographer and Cecelia Cook Drew, Writer.


Cecelia Cook Drew in Fourth Ward June 18, 1987